Our reading in this part of the Hebrew Bible reveals so many fascinating characters. David is so multifaceted— for good and evil— that you can’t take your eyes off of him. But be careful to notice Uriah the Hittite in 2 Samuel 11 (p.150 in Immerse: Kingdoms)
David has gotten Uriah’s wife pregnant while Uriah is away in battle, fighting for David and his kingdom. David calls Uriah home to be with his wife, Bathsheba, hoping that that will cover up his infidelity. Uriah, a convert to Judaism, takes his faith seriously, and in obedience to the Torah will not return home to his wife.
David was told, “Uriah did not go home.” So he asked Uriah, “Haven’t you just come from a military campaign? Why didn’t you go home?”
Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my commander Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!”
Then David said to him, “Stay here one more day, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. At David’s invitation, he ate and drank with him, and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his mat among his master’s servants; he did not go home. (2 Samuel 11:10–13)
David’s coverup is thwarted by Uriah’s integrity and eventually exposed by the prophet Nathan. Even though Uriah is murdered in battle, his life is not a tragedy. We can trust that upon his death he found himself in the care of our just and merciful God. The tragedy of David’s sin would have been much worse if Uriah had abandoned the Biblical standard as he knew it. As it is, Uriah’s integrity puts David’s sin in a harsh light where it belongs. We can learn from both these men.
Is there anything you need to learn from this?
At this point in our reading we see that David has succeeded Saul as king of Israel. Normally kings of that time would hunt down and wipe out the preceding king’s family to prevent civil war. If there is no competing royal family the throne is more secure. David was different; he found his security elsewhere.
David asked, “Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?”
Ziba answered the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is lame in both feet.”
“Where is he?” the king asked.
Ziba answered, “He is at the house of Makir son of Ammiel in Lo Debar.”
So King David had him brought from Lo Debar, from the house of Makir son of Ammiel.
When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honor.
David said, “Mephibosheth!”
“At your service,” he replied.
“Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.”
Mephibosheth bowed down and said, “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?” (2 Samuel 9:3–8)
At least two things are noteworthy here: David is merciful to Mephibosheth, and Mephibosheth has no pretensions to the throne. The reason for Mephibosheth’s humility is obvious. He’s got no power in this situation; David has the power, but uses it to bless, not destroy. David is able to govern mercifully only because he realizes he is as dependent on the LORD as Mephibosheth is on him.
What or whom do you depend on?
David, on the run and in great need, was incensed at the lack of hospitality from a wealthy landowner named Nabal. David lost his temper and moved to wipe out Nabal. Nabal’s wife, Abigail, got wind of David’s intent and worked swiftly to ward off the violence. She provided food for David and his men, and she herself went out to meet David and talk him out of his rash decision.
David replied to Abigail, “Praise the LORD, the God of Israel, who has sent you to meet me today! Thank God for your good sense! Bless you for keeping me from murder and from carrying out vengeance with my own hands. For I swear by the LORD, the God of Israel, who has kept me from hurting you, that if you had not hurried out to meet me, not one of Nabal’s men would still be alive tomorrow morning.”
Then David accepted her present and told her, “Return home in peace. I have heard what you said. We will not kill your husband.” (1 Samuel 25:32–35)
Abigail’s wisdom and her courageous act not only prevented terrible violence and bloodshed, but in doing so kept David from great sin. Everybody needs “a word fitly spoken” from time to time. And we need someone to take the risk to speak that word.
Ask the Lord to give you the right word, the courage to speak it, and the wisdom to know when.
King Saul immediately sent for Ahimelech and all his family, who served as priests at Nob.
When they arrived, Saul shouted at him, “Listen to me, you son of Ahitub!”
“What is it, my king?” Ahimelech asked.
“Why have you and the son of Jesse conspired against me?” Saul demanded. “Why did you give him food and a sword? Why have you consulted God for him? Why have you encouraged him to kill me, as he is trying to do this very day?”
“But sir,” Ahimelech replied, “is anyone among all your servants as faithful as David, your son-in-law? Why, he is the captain of your bodyguard and a highly honored member of your household! This was certainly not the first time I had consulted God for him! May the king not accuse me and my family in this matter, for I knew nothing at all of any plot against you.”
“You will surely die, Ahimelech, along with your entire family!” the king shouted. And he ordered his bodyguards, “Kill these priests of the LORD, for they are allies and conspirators with David! They knew he was running away from me, but they didn’t tell me!” But Saul’s men refused to kill the LORD’s priests.
(1 Samuel 22:11–17)
The flaws in King Saul’s character are on full display. His jealousy of David, his anxiety about his place in the kingdom, his tendency toward violence, and his impatience lead him to one bad decision after another. Saul’s distrust of trustworthy people have cost him friendships, loyal servants, and ultimately what he fears most, the loss of God’s favor. And it will shortly cost him the power he craves.
In contrast are Saul’s men who are pledged to do the king’s bidding. They see what Saul refuses to see, that though Saul has the authority to order the slaughter of innocent men and their families, it is not right. In their dissent they risk their own lives, and for a few moments their courage spares lives.
What principled stand do you need to make?
I find this passage remarkable:
“Pray to the LORD your God for us, or we will die!” they all said to Samuel. “For now we have added to our sins by asking for a king.”
“Don’t be afraid,” Samuel reassured them. “You have certainly done wrong, but make sure now that you worship the LORD with all your heart, and don’t turn your back on him. Don’t go back to worshiping worthless idols that cannot help or rescue you—they are totally useless! The LORD will not abandon his people, because that would dishonor his great name. For it has pleased the LORD to make you his very own people.
“As for me, I will certainly not sin against the LORD by ending my prayers for you. And I will continue to teach you what is good and right. But be sure to fear the LORD and faithfully serve him. Think of all the wonderful things he has done for you. But if you continue to sin, you and your king will be swept away.”
(1 Samuel 12:19–25 NLT)
Samuel scolds and reassures the people of Israel after they have insisted God give them a king— in the same sentence! “You have certainly done wrong” Samuel says, and he’s right. “Don’t be afraid” he counsels. That’s because of who God is: holy, so wrongdoing is not ignored, and gracious, so that even though they have committed a serious offense against God, even that is not sufficient to end the relationship of God with his people.
God neither winks at our self-centeredness nor walks off in a huff when offended. It’s a good thing he loves us and isn’t like us!
So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”
But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king." (1 Samuel 8:4–7)
Samuel has been serving the LORD since his youth. He is now an old man, and troubled by the request that’s come to him. What does he do? He talks to the LORD as if it is the continuation of a lifelong conversation. The LORD is quite specific in his response! What we don’t know is how long it took for Samuel to get an answer, or how he prepared himself to hear from God. At the very least we can assume Samuel cleared his head and his schedule so he could be ready.
What would it take for you to be ready to hear from God?
Note the three sentences I have put in bold face type:
The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions.
One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the LORD, where the ark of God was.
Then the LORD called Samuel.
Samuel answered, “Here I am.”
And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.
Again the LORD called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
“My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”
Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.
A third time the LORD called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”
Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
And the LORD said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle." (1 Samuel 3:1–11)
Samuel has been earnestly serving in the Tabernacle, working for the LORD under Eli’s supervision. But working for God is not enough. Samuel needs to hear from God, and he needs to respond to God. So do you. Blessing, trouble, power, and joy come to those who hear and respond.
We are reading this week in 1 & 2 Samuel. Here’s what caught my eye from the first pages:
After [Samuel] was weaned, [Hannah] took the boy with her, young as he was, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the LORD at Shiloh. When the bull had been sacrificed, they brought the boy to Eli, and she said to him, “Pardon me, my lord. As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the LORD. I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the LORD. For his whole life he will be given over to the LORD.” (1 Samuel 1:24–28)
What a tremendous gift Hannah gives the LORD in gratitude for what the LORD has done for her! It’s not hard to imagine what the boy Samuel must have meant to her as her only son. I marvel at how much she loves God, at how grateful she is.
What would it take for you and me to have faith like that?
The book of Judges chronicles a strange period full of odd and twisted situations. One such is Micah and his personal priest:
Then Micah said to him, “Live with me and be my father and priest, and I’ll give you ten shekels of silver a year, your clothes and your food.” So the Levite agreed to live with him, and the young man became like one of his sons to him. Then Micah installed the Levite, and the young man became his priest and lived in his house. And Micah said, “Now I know that the LORD will be good to me, since this Levite has become my priest.” (Judges 17:10–13)
Micah had already made idols from silver for his personal shrine, and now he has someone to serve as his personal priest. He has made his religion to be all about himself and his prosperity. He is acting as if God of Israel can be leveraged for blessings. He is about as wrongheaded as a person can be.
It is tempting in our consumer age where customization is everywhere to fall into a similar trap. We are led to think that if only we can arrange our part of the world to suit ourselves, then life will be good. But idolatry like this always disappoints, then destroys.
Yet another reason Jesus taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, and deliver us from evil”!
Lord, have mercy.
Judges is a difficult book, don’t you think? It is darker, more sordid, and more depressing than almost anything else in Scripture. Why read it? It happened, and we can learn from it.
The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD…. (Judges 6:1)
The same Israelites that stood and promised in unison ...
And the people said to Joshua, “We will serve the LORD our God and obey him.” (Joshua 24:24)
...were unrecognizably crass and violent within a generation or two.
The failure of their good intentions and promises ought to give us pause. If wanting to and promising to obey God and cooperate with his purposes isn’t enough to actually make it happen, what does it take?
What does it take?
Pastor Mark loves his wife and grown children, the Word of God, and words. And coffee,
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6–7)
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